A satanic cult could be responsible for breaking into a mausoleum and stealing the remains of a New Jersey grandmother who died 16 years ago, police said today.
"Cults are one of the things we will look at," said Capt. Rocky Melendez of the Pleasantville police department. "We're looking into different angles of why someone would take someone's remains."
Sometime between the night of July 26 and the early morning of July 27, thieves smashed the windshield-thick glass on the door of the mausoleum at the Atlantic City Cemetery where Pauline Spinelli, three of her children and their spouses are buried.
After breaking through the glass and a brass lock, police believe the thieves used a sledge hammer to crack the marble slab that sealed the area where Spinelli was entombed.
"They then pushed that slab over, pulled the casket out, pried it open and removed the remains," Melendez said.
The only item remaining in the coffin was the blanket used to cover Spinelli, granddaughter Paula Lafollette told ABCNews.com.
Lafollette said her husband has done research into the theory that a satanic cult took her grandmother's remains for a ritual and believes it's a strong possibility.
"We did a lot of research and my husband found a group online that uses bodies in some kind of a ritual and they need the bones for their ritual. The group is called Palo. There were some bodies found in Newark and Woodbridge and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, speculated to have been used by this group," she said. "Who else would want a body?"
Palo, a religion that uses black magic and originated in the Caribbean, is highly unlikely to have been the reason why Spinelli's remains were stolen, said cult expert Rick Ross.
"The likelihood they would go into a mausoleum and drag out a body seems remote. Usually these hybrid religious groups [including Palo] use chicken and other animal bones," Ross said. "Typically these acts end up being individual perpetrators not linked to an organized group."
Lafollette said she doesn't understand why someone would target her family mausoleum, which she said her grandmother built after the death of her first child.
"She wanted her family above ground..and a place where she could go and just sit and visit," Lafollette said.
Police said they plan to reach out to neighboring communities and states to determine if any similar crimes have taken place.
Lafollette said she just wants her "spitfire" grandmother back in her rightful resting place.
"She had her own mind," Lafollette said. "Trust me, she is probably torturing whoever stole her body."